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Burning Questions

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Burning Questions for Week 5 vs. Chargers

The Browns face their toughest opponent yet this season in Week 5


The Browns' biggest challenge yet this season has arrived.

After going 2-2 in arguably the easiest four-game stretch of the schedule they'll have this year, the Browns will have to rebound from a loss last week to the Falcons against a Chargers team that boasts the league's most explosive pass offense. Justin Herbert will be as difficult of a passer the Browns face all year, which is where we'll start our rundown of the top questions Cleveland faces Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.

How can the defense slow down Herbert?

To completely slow down Herbert, who enters Week 5 with a league-leading 1,250 passing yards, might be impossible, but the Browns need to limit his arm as much as they can.

Doing that will require one of the best games the secondary has played this season. The Browns defense as a whole ranks 13th in the league against the pass, but the biggest problems have almost always come in the fourth quarter, where the Browns lead the league with an average 12.5 points allowed per game.

That trend simply can't continue against the Chargers.

The Browns already know well from their previous meeting against Herbert that no lead is safe against them in the fourth quarter — they allowed the Chargers to score two touchdowns in the final minutes last season to steal a win. Herbert, 24, appears to be an even better QB this season and has continued his hot start to the year despite suffering a rib cartilage fracture in Week 2.

"They are the No. 1 passing offense, and it's because of him and the players they have," defensive coordinator Joe Woods said. "I know he has the injury, but he's still moving around in the pocket. You still see the bootlegs and things of that nature. He looks normal."

Herbert might not have a full brass of receiving weapons. Five-time Pro Bowler Keenan Allen was ruled out for the game due to a hamstring injury, and second-year wideout Joshua Palmer was ruled questionable with an ankle injury.

He'll still have Mike Williams, however, who gashed the Browns for 165 receiving yards and two touchdowns in their game last season.

"Big body," Newsome said. "Tough at the catch point. We are definitely going to have to play through the hands a lot and be physical with a guy like that. A lot of guys aren't physical with him so you have to match his physicality."

With a QB like Herbert, the Chargers can throw the ball anywhere to anyone. The defense has to button their play up and be ready — particularly in the fourth quarter.

Check out photos of players and coaches working to prepare for the teams regular season game against the Los Angeles Chargers

Who's back on the D-line?

The defense could receive a major boost Sunday with Pro edge rushers Myles Garrett (shoulder, biceps) set to play after missing Week 4. DE Jadeveon Clowney (ankle) and DT Taven Bryan (hamstring) are questionable but returned to practice this week and are making progress.

The Browns will wait until gameday to make a decision on Clowney.

"He got some work done today," Stefanski said. "We will take that to Sunday and make a decision when we get to Sunday."

The Chargers will start Jamaree Salyer, a sixth-round rookie who made his NFL debut last week, at left tackle following a season-ending injury to 2021 first-round pick Rashawn Slater, which could be a matchup Garrett or Clowney exploit.

"I just study him like he's anyone else," Garrett said. "I'll study him as much as I can and find out as much as I can about him. When the game comes, nothing will really surprise me. I think he did pretty well in his first game, and even in that short stint he had, he had some things we can take advantage of and use to exploit."

Can Brissett, Cooper reignite their connection?

After totaling over 100 receiving yards in back-to-back games, Amari Cooper was a non-factor in the pass game in Week 4 and caught just one pass for nine yards on four targets.

That game should be an anomaly for Cooper, who had shown in Weeks 2 and 3 how reliable of a target he can be for QB Jacoby Brissett. Cooper credited the Falcons for how well they covered him in Week 4 and said the flow of the game dictated his target count, and he could be on track to rebound Sunday. The Browns need him to be more involved to elevate their pass game and stay ahead of the possible output from the Chargers.

"I think it's critical," Brissett said. "We understand that, and teams understand that. Obviously, didn't want it to work out that way, but it did. It is a great learning tool for us at my position, his position and obviously Kev (Head Coach Kevin Stefanski) calling the plays. Just something that we understand is something that we have to do is find ways to get him involved. I just missed him a couple of times."

Cooper will primarily face CB J.C. Jackson, a 2021 Pro Bowler who has started the year on a rough note. He's allowed 10 receptions on 11 targets and has a Pro Football Focus grade of 39.3, which ranks 100th out of 103 cornerbacks in the league.

It could be a favorable matchup for Cooper, and the Browns have to capitalize on it the same way they did before the rough outing last week.

Will Chubb stay hot?

At this point, the answer to this question always seems to be "yes" — Chubb has totaled 80 or more yards in all four games this season and has topped 100 yards in three of them. He's second in the NFL with 459 yards this season, four yards behind Giants RB Saquon Barkley.

No defense has been able to stop him so far, and he faces a Chargers defense this week that has allowed a 100-yard rusher in each of the last two games. The Browns have used Chubb a lot and have given him at least 17 carries in each game this season, and he's responded by averaging 5.7 yards per carry, which stands as the highest mark of his career.

There are zero signs the Browns would use Chubb any differently this week, and perhaps they'll even look to use him more to improve their red zone efficiency — the Browns rank 15th in the league with a 56.25 percent success rate inside the 20-yard line.

"Coach is going to make the best calls for us as he feels during that time," Chubb said. "No matter whose number is called, we have to get the ball in. I think we all feel like we can always get the ball in. Anybody can, so it's not just the running backs. I feel like anybody we can get the ball in in that situation."

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